This week we have have had many early mornings and late nights filming and editing a one tonne over stuffed Walrus that is over 120 years old. He is the focus piece in the Horniman Museum‘s Natural History Gallery but this summer he is on loan to Turner Contemporary in Margate for an exhibition called Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing.
The video is just over two minutes long but because it’s in time lapse it covers three full working days of material.
We started by going in a few days early to his spit and polish so that he would be leaving looking his best. There was a very surreal moment when Christopher Biggins arrived to take a couple of shots of the walrus and then disappeared again. Nobody seemed to know why and the museum wasn’t even open yet. Anyway the walrus looked very clean and relaxed at the end of that day.
On Monday we did arrive at what we thought was a “very early” 0715hrs to begin filming his departure but contractors and museum staff had been in since 6am to prepare for the moment everyone was very anxious about. Lifting the one tonne gentleman over the cabinets by way of a winch. We did question why they couldn’t just move the cabinets but turns out that the beautiful Victorian casing is much more problematic to move than an overstuffed walrus.
There was a lot of excitement in the air, with a slight hint of nervous tension, and there was a lot of interest surrounding the fact that he was getting x-rayed before he left. Apparently this is the first time he has ever had his insides examined. I overheard two Natural History curators casually discussing if they thought any of his bones were still inside. They both agreed that his skull and flipper bones must be there as the shape of them was accurate compared to his over stuffed body. They were of course proved correct. I love it when people obviously know what they are talking about. Expertise at work!
To create the sliding effect whilst maintaining the time lapse effect can be done with a very expensive piece of equipment or with a lot of patience. On this occasion we went with patience. We placed the camera on our slider and moved the slider a quarter of a centimetre every three seconds. The result is a dynamic and fluid shot.
This is why when the moment came for the walrus to fly over the cabinets I missed the whole thing. I was fully focused on moving the camera a solid quarter centimetre. I managed to get a look of his while he was suspended in the air which was rather awe inspiring. There was a palpable sense of relief when he touched the ground again and applause spontaneously erupted for all those involved. It was a great job, well done and exactly to plan.
After a little bit of crating he was allowed an early night because the next day he was wrapped up, padded and battened into his crate for the journey to Margate. He looked rather peaceful and we decided he looked like he was going to Margate for a spa treatment. His crate was then fully closed up and he was left in isolation.
The next morning was another very early start and we all hung around in the gardens waiting for his grand exit. The conditions were arctic, perhaps to make him feel more at home, and after waiting for some time he was lifted into the lorry very quickly and easily.
We thought we had very little time to get into position to see him leave the site so dashed off but in reality everyone else went off for a cup of tea and we stood on the south circular in rush hour traffic in windy and cold conditions waiting for everyone to return. In minutes it was all over and off he went to Margate.
We asked visitors why the museum was their museum of the year and to sum up all the aspects of the museum in one word. It was a really fun video to make and a pleasure to see how much people love the museum. We didn’t struggle to get positive comments but we did end up capturing more than enough footage and so we have had to cut many glowing reviews to get it down to a consumable size.
Now let us know if you have been to the museum and what you think of it in the comments!
UPDATE… just seen this cute thing via Twitter…. a walrus wearing our video as an accessory. acapmedia fashion coming to a market stall near you soon.
Click the pic to go to the Horniman’s Instagram photo directly
Following the Horniman being announced as a finalist in the Art Fund Museum of the Year award we were asked to come in on Thursday and get a flavour of their visitors’ reaction to the news and we had a really great time.
We spoke to all sorts of visitors: some on their first visit, families who go two or three times a week, people who have been visiting for 60 years or more, teenagers, toddlers, parents, grandparents and people from all over the world.
The message was clear; people really love the museum and gardens. They use it to research design, culture, to learn about animals, entertain children, engage in art activities, to enjoy the gardens, to listen to music both indoors and out… the reasons are endless and different to each person or group we spoke to. We asked visitors to sum up the Horniman in one word and here are a few of the things they said:
Video coming soon…
Good Luck Horniman!
On a side note, we also took these pictures when we popped into the aquarium at the end of the day:
We are currently embarking on an exciting project with Dulwich Picture Gallery. DPG have initiated an intergenerational dance project working with Rambert, The Blackfriar Settlement and Salmon Youth Centre.
The project involves a group of older people from Blackfriars and a group of young people from Salmon learning a piece of dance repertory with Rambert animateurs.
The first part of the project was a welcome day for everyone at DPG for all the participants to meet and mingle because, for the majority of the project, the groups will learn the dance separately so they can move at their own pace. The day began with some lunch and then everyone got up and started moving around, saying hello to one another and playing some ice breaker games which culminated in getting into pairs and discussing families. Then sharing what had been learned about each other’s families with the whole group.
The participants took a very quick break before starting to look at some of the repotory that Rambert will be working on with them throughout the project. It was a really lively section of dance so it was great that the older people were able to dip in and out of the dance but also very encouraging to see how determined some were to get through the whole routine… and some just danced to their own rhythm – which was amazing!
Then the participants split into two mixed age groups and went on a tour of the Gallery where they learnt about the the Linbury Family through a number of portraits that are some of the first to greet you as you enter the gallery. The Linbury Sisters is a Gainsborough painting and, for me, one of the most iconic images from the gallery and certainly the image I tend to think of when I think of the gallery.
Then we looked at Le Triomphe de David, depicting David’s victory over Goliath.
We didn’t just look at these pics but had a wonderful guided tour from Phillipa who really encouraged the participants to explore and investigate even the most secondary characters in these images; exploring the body shapes, relationships, drama, dance and family relationships that they revealed.
After the tour we chatted, on camera, to some very enthusiastic participants, older people and children, who were very excited to be part of a new way of investigating the Gallery’s collection. Maureen, a regular visitor to DPG, was very familiar with the Gallery and had previously danced with an African dance troupe in Peckham. Young Miracle had visited the Gallery with her school and then brought her mother back with her to visit the gallery before joining this project for another chance to spend time in the gallery and work with its historic collection.
I also spoke to Liz, a retired professional tap dancer, who, despite having problems with her knees, was enthusiastic and very inspirational; absolutely ready to give it all a go!
It was a packed afternoon all finished off with tea and cakes where I got to chat to some of the children who really enjoyed the gift shop. I also spoke with Jeanie, who had been a Ballroom enthusiast in her younger days, as well as rock n roll Aidan, who I had seen dancing to his own beat earlier in the workshop!
We were made to really feel part of the team working on this project with Blackfriar Settlement, Salmon Youth Centre, Megan Taylor - our great photography mate, Rambert and of course the lynch pins, Michelle and Aimee, from Dulwich Picture Gallery. We’re really looking forward to joining the groups at their rehearsals which start next week.
I was keen to do this as the project is very large and we have heard several times at events we were filming just how many people were working on the project but I think it can be difficult to grasp who they are and what they are doing, as well as to some extent why they are doing it from a distance. So we got up close but not too personal.
I was welcomed to the Museum’s store which is where all the objects not on display are held. As you walk in it feels quite cramped as the ceilings are fairly low in the stairwell and leading into the staffroom. I arrived in time to sit on (and film clips of) a catch up meeting for people involved in the project. This was very interesting as it let me get a bit of an insight into how they worked, communicated and kept links with the Forest Hill site where the curators etc are based.
When I was taken into the stores it was a very different environment to the offices and galleries in Forest Hill. There were cases for mummies, buddha statues and boxes beyond boxes of objects in large halls. Off the main halls were rooms with Victorian cabinet cases in them. In the middle of one of the halls a special office and photography studio had been set up and this was where I began my main filming.
I interview Kirsten Walker, Director of Collections Management & Special Projects, who is overseeing the whole project with Dr Sarah Byrne who appears in several of the CPS videos. She gave me an overview and then let me talk to (a different) Sarah and Rachel who were part of one team doing, what they called, The Physical Review.
The Physical Review, in many ways, could be seen as quite mundane and repetitive as they have to go through many boxes each day and review: look at, check and photograph many objects. Luckily these guys are precise, love objects and are working with a fascinating collection. I was only there briefly and saw a range of Hindu amulets and figures that were gorgeous but I wasn’t allowed to touch them as I didn’t have gloves on.
It is also these guys who are often responsible for many of the objects found on the very popular blog the review has on Tumblr. Do take a look!
Then I spoke to the Project Photographer, Dani, who explained all the various kinds of photography the project involves, she showed off her whizz Photoshop skills and I was fascinated watching her climb up and down the huge trolley which she has set up, surrounded by boxes of artifacts, to photograph large objects from above.
I filmed a conservator repairing a broken boar’s tusk charm, documentation managers and the collection manager, who I managed to track down and interview in the Armour store. While I was there I got some quick snaps of a Suit of Armour, poking out from under a dust sheet and the spears which were the backdrop to our interview.
I spoke to the Deputy Natural History curator, Paulo, who explained how he had assisted his colleagues on the anthropology review by identifying the skull of a vulture that was part of a Nigerian charm. I had actually seen the charm on the tumblr page already:
In person though I was really impressed by the size of it which I hadn’t really appreciated from the tumblr page. Paulo showed me a variety of skulls from Birds of Prey in a room full of deer heads and horns. This is him holding the charm and, for reference, he has big hands.
It was a great day full of some very interesting sights and passionate people.
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There were more passionate people when Chris and I visited the Museum again the following week to interview the Anthropology curators who are heavily involved in the review.
They were all absolutely fascinating and clearly really enjoying the project and having the luxury of time and resources to re-evaluate the fantastic collection in their care. We got philosophical but also I wanted to try and eek out of them the practicalities of what being a curator is, which I hope I managed to some extent… I certainly felt that I left with a better impression of what that day-to-day role is.
We spent a lot of time walking up and down a warren of offices with piles of papers, folders and precariously balanced objects (ok, not so precariously balanced!) . Messages of respect for the objects’ cultures of origin were clear from everyone and as was a shared inquisitive character. A common sense of cultural exploration and a hope that anthropology and museums can really help people try to see the world in a new way seemed to be at the forefront of their minds.
It was fascinating and exciting to hear them talk about how this was possible and I fear if I say anymore I shall start to spoil the video which will be coming soon!
There was a whole host of activities on and this video is edited to the music of the BossaRockers who performed three sets in the main Gallery Square area of the museum. Visitors and Staff alike seemed to be enjoying their music filling the spaces between the galleries and bringing an upbeat but relaxed atmosphere to the day.
For familes with young children the highlights seemed to be the face painting which was handled by members of the youth panel. But it wasn’t just the children getting their faces painted.
In the same room there was an opportunity for children to decorate or draw an Amazonian animal and add it to the giant poster that stretched across the whole room. Lot’s of very focused young artists contributed to the finished frieze.
One of the things that really caught the imagination of the young people though seemed to be the photobox that was set up in the Hands on gallery.
Some Amazon themed props – as well as some cowboy hats and fezes – were available for posing in and with. It looked so much fun we couldn’t really resist it ourselves!
The most exciting/repulsive/hilarious/stomach turning part of the day waz the Comamos Insectos activity that pitted contenders against their taste buds to eat a number of disgusting flies, bugs, worms, larvae, grasshoppers and even scorpions!
There was a lot of bravado and a lot of genuine courage. I was so grateful I could refuse on the grounds of vegetarianism cos there nothing that looked appealing on that menu!
A really vibrant day that was especially impressive as it was organised and run by the Youth Panel Members themselves!
A few weeks back we filmed a Tibetan Food and Feasting workshop at the Horniman Museum. Tom had arranged the workshop with two members of Tibetan diaspora, Padma and Premila.
The workshop began with some introductions. The group was compromised of quite a wide range of people with varying interests and expertise ranging from Tibetan exiles, bloggers and activists to former Museum curators. There was also a Lama and a monk from Kagyu Samye Dzong, a buddhist temple in Bermondsey.
The majority of the morning was spent looking at and handling Food and Feasting related objects from the collection. Tom, the curator, was hoping that objects would inspire discussion and perhaps elicit information from the attendees and I certainly think that was the case. Some of the “Tibetan” objects it seemed where in fact Chinese or from Bhutan. There was much discussion as to why this might be but it was generally agreed there was a lot of object migration across this region so it was likely that they were collected in Tibet. There was a range of objects that were both ornate and functionary including an incredible grater (although it was primarily made from wood with metal, cutting sections, that had rusted, its function was pretty clear even to me), plenty of tea pots and drinking bowls, storage containers for grain and tsampa. Tsampa is traditionally the staple food of Tibet and is made from barley. One of the most resonant objects for the older Tibetans was a pouch, of goat(?) skin, that was for carrying tsampa and would allow you to mix it in the bag before eating.
Later in the day we had a demonstration of Tsampa Making which involves mixing the tsampa flour with water or Tibetan Butter Tea and then rolling into a kind of doughy ball. We had three different people rolling Tsampa in very different ways. Sadly my palate wasn’t up to distinguishing between the types too much beyond texture. One of them included some dried yak’s cheese which was very exciting for this cheese lover!
Tibetan Butter Tea sounds like a creamy rich kind of tea but it really doesn’t taste like that. Perhaps I was lucky not to taste the tea at the Losar in the end as it would not have tasted at all as I imagined. Luckily, I was forewarned to imagine I was going to drink something more like a slightly tea flavoured salty soup. It was a very odd sensation and was certainly more different to drinking English Breakfast Tea than even the name might suggest.
The feasting didn’t stop there as one of the attendees had brought a variety of different breads and snacks to share. Mostly these foods were related to Losar but she also had examples of the Tibetan brick tea and commercially produced tsampa biscuits.
Two younger members of the Tibetan diaspora, spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing a kind of stew that, sadly, had meat in it so I couldn’t taste it but it was full of green leafy veg and then they added lots of dough that cooked in the stew. The cooked dough pieces floating around looked really appetising. Something like fresh pasta I imagine. This meal was shared around for everyone to taste.
There was also a demonstration of Torma making by the representatives from the temple. Torma are ritual figures made from flour. We learned a lot about the significance of the torma and also the wide variety of torma used and how they can differ so much in size, who makes them, colour, ingredients, intricacy. They showed us a slide show of some very elaborate torma from India. You can learn a lot more about tormas on this blog: http://tormas.wordpress.com/
One of the kinds of Torma is eaten traditionally and this was what was made during the workshop and which we got to taste. The ingredients for this food offering Torma included oats, rather than barley, raisins and honey so when we tasted it it was surprisingly sweet. With the honey, oats and raisins you might not be surprised to hear that it reminded me of flapjacks but it certainly surprised me at the time.
We tried to speak to as many of the attendees as were willing to be on camera and there was a very common message through the day that all of the talks were incredibly interesting, that handling the objects was fascinating and particularly emotional for the attendees who had left Tibet many years ago. As a genuine novice to the topic I left with a richer and deeper understanding of traditional Tibetan culture and also the contemporary struggle for Tibetan identity both in and out of Tibet.